A Dictionary of the English Language
                        A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson
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How To Use & FAQ

How To Use This Site

Menu Options · How to Navigate Page View · Dictionary Entries · FAQ

Menu Options

The menu is located at the top of the page and it includes the following:

Home
The front page, which includes the latest updates and a list of the last 40 entries I've transcribed.

About This Project
I explain why this site exists and list some recommended books on Samuel Johnson and his dictionary.

How To Use & FAQ
This page.

Dictionary Statistics
Here you can see which authors are quoted the most, what percentage of the words are nouns or come from Greek roots, or see if Johnson held to his plan to exclude authors alive in his time.

History of Johnson's Dictionary
Here you can read Johnson's original "Plan", learn about the Lord Chesterfield patronage fiasco, read poetry praising the dictionary and other contemporaneous documents.

Preface
Johnson explains his methodology (it differs somewhat from the "Plan").

The History of the English Language
Johnson traces the history of English from Anglo-Saxon to his day via extensive quotations.

A Grammar of the English Tongue
Johnson examines the structure of English in four sections: Orthography (Spelling), Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody.

You can browse the Dictionary entries that have already been transcribed three different ways: alphabetically, page-by-page, or by quoted author. You can also search through them using the search box. Entries that have NOT been transcribed yet can only be viewed in Page View.

Quiz Game
A short trivia game - how well do you know Johnson's Dictionary?

Random
This will bring up a random dictionary entry.

Contact
If you would like a specific entry transcribed, if you catch a typographical error, or if you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

How to Navigate Page View

You can quickly jump around the dictionary using the navigation drop-down boxes. Under the title “Page View” and above the image and page number are two drop-down boxes – “1. Select a Section” and “2. Select a Page”. If you wanted to find “time,” for instance, you would select “T” from the first box. This causes the “2. Select a Page” box to be filled in with the pages from the “T” section, enabling you to select “Tillyfally – Time.” Press the “3. GO” button and that page is loaded.

Dictionary Entries

Once you have located an entry to view, you will see a screen like this:

The default view is the transcription.

The transcriptions retain Johnson's spelling, with the exception that "ʃ" is replaced with "s", as this is easier for me to type and it will make searching within entries easier. Johnson's "diʃtinct" will thus be rendered "distinct." I am currently going back through previously-transcribed entries to update the Saxon font used in the etymologies to match Johnson's usage.

A great help in deciphering the numerous ligatures commonly found in Renaissance representations of Ancient Greek (and thus in Johnson's etymologies) is Schmidhauser's Renaissance Greek font (specifically, the RGreekL2 chart).

I have also added the following stylistic features to make reading easier: Headwords are printed in red. Definitions (and quotations which serve the purpose of definitions) are printed in black. Illustrative quotations are rendered in blue.

If you wish to see the entry exactly as it appears in the dictionary, click on View Scan. Then you will see an image like this:

For each of these, I compared the British Library and the Harvard Library scans, and chose the most legible version. These scans are taken from old microfilm copies, and the quality is sometimes lacking. Some of them therefore are faded or twisted.

You can click on the page number to view that entry in "Page View" surrounded by its fellow entries.

Below the entry, there are a number of boxes. The first lists the entry's Sources and Attributes. The Sources list includes the authors or books Johnson quotes or references in the entry. You can click on the names/titles to see a list of that source's other entries. Attributes, a work in progress, includes information about the entry included by Johnson, including its part of speech, etymological origin, and whether or not Johnson considers the word to be archaic or obscene. This information will be used for statistical analysis once all of the entries have been transcribed, and will also be used for advanced search in the future. The second box, Search for this word in:, allows you to look up the entry in a variety of contemporary dictionaries. Note: Not every word will be able to be successfully found in every dictionary. Underneath this second box, you will find tools that allow you to leave comments, or to share the entry via Twitter, Google+, Reddit, and Facebook.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why are there differences between Page View and the transcription scans? Aren't they both supposed to be from the 1st edition?
  2. How much did Johnson's dictionary weigh?
  3. What is the Latin poem on the title page?
  4. How do you read Johnson's Anglo-Saxon font?
  5. Which typeface/font is the dictionary printed in?


1. Why are there differences between Page View and the transcription scans? Aren't they both supposed to be from the 1st edition?

They are both 1st edition copies, despite the differences. The Page View scans are taken from a facsimile copy of Johnson's dictionary; the transcription scans are from microfilm copies. The differences result from the way books were printed in Johnson's time. A printing house would have multiple pressmen working on the same book section at any given time. Each pressman had to typeset the page, and unique human errors thus crept into different copies of the same book. The pressmen identified which sections they printed by placing a small number, or "press figure," at the bottom of their pages. Here is an example from p. 55 of the dictionary:


Transcription Scan
British Library Microfilm
Page View Scan
Facsimile Copy, AMS Press, 1967

For this section of the dictionary, then, pressman #1 printed the pages found in the transcription scan copy of the dictionary, while pressman #6 printed the pages found in the Page View version. For more on the variations found, consult William B. Todd's note (#242, "Variants in Johnson's Dictionary, 1755") in Book Collector, Vol. 14 (1965), No. 2, pages 212-214. There he lists at least 13 variant copies of the 1st edition.


2. How much did Johnson's dictionary weigh?

According to Paul Groves, “The first edition was a cumbersome 2,300-page volume weighing about 22lbs, the weight of a large turkey.”

Source: “Johnson’s Dictionary: Dr Johnson’s World in Just 42,773 Words; Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is 250 Years Old.” Birmingham Post, April 9, 2005, p. 43-44.

Henry Hitchings (quoted by Groves at various times in the above article) states that the first edition was “around twenty pounds.” (Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, p. 209 – The book is listed under Recommended Reading).


3. What is the Latin poem on the title page?

It is from Horace's Epistles, where Horace is addressing those who want to write poetry that will be considered great. Here is a translation by Andrew Wood (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1872):


Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti:
Audebit, quaecumque parum splendoris habebunt.
Et sine pondere erunt, et honore indigna ferentur.
Verba movere loco; quamvis invita recedant,
Et versentur adhuc inter penetralia Vestae:
Obscurata diu populo bonus eruet, atque
Proferet in lucem speciosa vocabula rerum,
Quae priscis memorata Catonibus atque Cethegis,
Nunc situs informis premit et deserta vetustas.      Hor.
  That with his tablets he take up the mind
Of a fair critic, and if words he find
Which sparkle lack and weight, and which may seem
Inane — in short, unworthy of his theme —
These to expunge he will not hesitate,
Though their removal ‘gainst his will may grate,
And though they still may — hid from mortal eye —
In the recesses of his sanctum lie.
A worthy poet for the people’s use
Will ferret out, and to the light produce
Expressive terms long hid from public view,
Used by old Cato and Cethegus too,
Though now they’re cover’d by unsightly mould
And dust of what is obsolete and old;
New words he’ll use if sanction’d they shall be
By custom — parent of all novelty;
Impetuous — flowing like a river pure —
His treasures he’ll pour forth, and thus procure
The boon of a rich tongue for Latium


4. How do you read the Anglo-Saxon font?


Anglo-Saxon Modern   Anglo-Saxon Modern
A a A a B b B b
 c C c D ꝺ D d
  E e F ꝼ F f
 ᵹg G g  h H h
I ı I i J ȷ J j
K k K k L l L l
 m M m N n N n
O o O o P p P p
Q q Q q R ꞃ R r
 ꞅ S s T ꞇ T t
U u U u V v V v
Ƿ ƿ W w X x X x
Y ẏy Y y Z z Z z
Æ æ Æ æ Ð ð th in other or smooth
þ th in three œ oe
Paragraph separator þæt = the, that
et = &


5. Which typeface/font is the dictionary printed in?

The answer to this question (or the closest I can come to one) can be found in the essay "The typographic design of Johnson's Dictionary" by Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson's Dictionary, edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott.

"In type design, the faces cut by William Caslon in the 1720s and 1730s provided a systematic (though not wholly uniform) set of related roman, italic, and small-cap founts in a full range of sizes. [...] Johnson's printer, William Strahan, bought his types from the Scottish typefounder Alexander Wilson, who offered faces 'conformable to the London types,' in other words close in design to those of Caslon." (p. 179)


Have a question?

Cite this page: "How To Use & FAQ." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: January 5, 2014. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?page_id=7507.


  1. Lovely and useful font help! But I believe it should be “the Tironian ‘et’”, not “the Tironian note”; there are many Tironian notes; this one specifically represents “et”.

  2. Miranda on July 31st, 2012 at 2:25 am
  3. Technically you are right, so I will change it :) The Tironian ‘et’ is the only Tironian note used in Anglo-Saxon (and thus the only one Johnson uses), so sometimes in literature about Old English manuscripts it referred to as the Tironian note, despite the existence of many, many others.

  4. Brandi on August 9th, 2012 at 12:37 pm
  5. I am almost embarrassed to provide a correction to such a massive project, yet comforted by being conscious of the near impossibility to produce so large a project without some manifestation of human error. So here it is: ‘th’ in ‘this’, is, as matter of fact, voiced. An example of an unvoiced ‘th’ would be in the word ‘three’.

  6. Giancarlo Aspasini on December 17th, 2012 at 3:14 am
  7. No embarrassment on your end needed! I’ve corrected the table.

    I am keeping the errors that are Johnson’s, but there are many of my own human and typographic errors throughout these pages, unfortunately, so, dear readers, if you stumble upon any, please let me know.

  8. Brandi on December 17th, 2012 at 9:46 am
  9. I would be very grateful if you could add the following words to your online list:
    TRIBE
    FAMILY
    GANG
    STARVE
    Thanks very much in advance.
    Barbara Belyea

  10. Barbara Belyea on May 28th, 2013 at 6:35 am
  11. Brandi on May 28th, 2013 at 9:58 pm
  12. The section on Dictionary Entries on the How To Use page discusses the Sources box. It does not, however, discuss what “attributes” means in this context although, in many entries (e.g., joke (noun) and joke (verb)), the Sources box has a line for attributes. Would you please add a contextually relevant definition or description of “attributes”? Thank you.

  13. Warren Friedman on January 4th, 2014 at 11:57 pm
  14. Thank you for now describing on the How To Use page what a word’s attributes on its definition page are, and for noting that providing attributes is currently “a work in progress,” along with your goals for that effort.

  15. Warren Friedman on January 7th, 2014 at 12:50 am

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